Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What You May Not Know About Turkey

by Globonder Kenan Saatcioglu, New York City

Turkey, my homeland, is the Land of Homer, King Midas, Herodotus and St Paul. The country is the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, a major historical power which lasted for more than six centuries on three continents, controlling most of Southeastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey’s largest city Istanbul is the only city in the world located on two continents, Europe and Asia. It was the capital of three empires: Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Empire. Turkey introduced coffee to Europe. Yogurt is a Turkish word.
A Turk, Orhan Pamuk, won the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature. Some say that the first man to fly was Turkish, Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi, whose flight of 1.5 km was recorded by eyewitnesses in 1683, more than 200 years before the Wright Brothers made their first flight.

Two of the seven wonders of ancient world stood in Turkey, and the oldest human settlement was formed in Turkey in 10,000 BC. The first Christian church was built in Turkey and the seven churches that St. Paul visited were in Turkey. The first coins were minted in Turkey.
The Turkish people have always been tolerant of other religions, including Judaism. In 1942, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal, Sultan Beyazid II (1481-1512) issued a formal invitation to them and they started emigrating to the Empire in great numbers. The Sultan is said to have remarked about the Spanish Monarch’s anti-semitism, “Ye call Ferdinand a wise king, he who makes his land poor and ours rich!”

During the tragic days of World War II, Turkey managed to maintain its neutrality. As early as 1933, Ataturk invited numbers of prominent German Jewish professors to flee Nazi Germany and settle in Turkey. Before and during the war years, these scholars contributed a great deal to the development of the Turkish university system. During World War II, Turkey served as a safe passage for many Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazism. While the Jewish communities of Greece were almost completely wiped out by Hitler, the Turkish Jews remained secure.
Several Turkish diplomats, Ambassadors Behic Erkin and Numan Menemencioglu; Consul Generals Fikret Sefik Ozdoganci, Bedii Arbel, and Selahattin Ulkumen; Consuls Namik Kemal Yolga and Necdet Kent, just to name a few, spent all their efforts to save from the Holocaust the Turkish Jews in those countries, and succeeded. Salahattin Ulkumen, Consul General at Rhodes in 1943-44, was recognized by the Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile ("Hassid Umot ha'Olam") in June 1990.

Turkey continues to be a shelter, a haven for all those who have to flee dogmatism, intolerance and persecution. In June 1940, Behiç Erkin did, as had several other Turkish diplomats – such as Necdet Kent in Marseille and Selahattin Ülkümen in Rhodes – making remarkable efforts to save from the Holocaust the Turkish Jews within his mission's reach. In practical terms any Jewish person who could document a Turkish connection, even the slightest, was saved, similar to the better-known actions taken during the same period by Oskar Schindler. Also, Namık Kemal Yolga (1914–2001) was a Turkish diplomat and statesman, known as the Turkish Schindler.

Here are the main Turkish products, rooted in its imperial history: Organic and dried foods, cuisine as world class as Chinese and French, rugs and carpets, fabrics and textiles, organic cotton, and ceramics and glass. Please get in touch if you would like to learn more or to do business with Turkey!


Arrancopelito said...

I find the stress on Turkey's friendliness towards Jews at least disngenuous.

The tens of thousand of Turkish Jews who took refuge all over the world in the 50s, with large concentrations in Argentina and to a lesser extent in Uruguay, would indeed beg to differ.

So would my husband, a Turk of Muslim origin who three years ago decided to hide my Jewish name so we would not suffer further anti-semitic attacks while we were still living in Turkey.

I watched Turkey go from a "live and let live" attitude at the beginning of the decade, to a clearly anti-semitic and generally xenophobic society in just a few years following the election of the current government.

This climate of increased dogmatic and political, in-your-face "religion" coupled with xenophobia and misplaced nationalistic fervor prompted us to move away. Many of our friends can't, and feel trapped in a society wrecked by witch hunts, assassinations and increased intolerance of liberal or humanistic thought.

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